Time to Panic About Y2K38?

Macworld dominated the headlines last week, so it’s likely many unsuspecting readers were in too comfortable a state of Mac nirvana to realize what was happening in the rest of the world. Snap out of it, people! Y2K38 is coming, and as of Saturday, the 30-year countdown has already begun!

Slashdot’s bloggers can always be counted upon to be on top of potential crises in the geek world, and a good thing too, because there’s been very little mention of the impending crisis elsewhere. But sure enough, alert Slashdot blogger kdawson sounded the alarms on Tuesday with a post calling attention to the Y2K38 phenomenon, and his was followed by no fewer than 530 comments.

In a nutshell, the year 2038 problem, as it is also known, is that most Unix-like operating systems represent time as the number of seconds since January 1, 1970. On 32-bit systems, that second count is a signed 32-bit integer. What that, in turn, means — unfortunately for us all — is that the latest time that can be represented is 03:14:07 UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) on Tuesday, January 19, 2038.

Oh, that we could see Wednesday, Jan. 20 that year! But alas, it may not be so. As with Y2K, times beyond the critical point will be represented internally as negative numbers, causing programs to believe the year is 1901. Doom will certainly follow — or, at least, something might happen.

‘Much Scarier’

“Most of the Y2K problems were just display errors, not bugs in the actual calculations going on under the scenes,” wrote jandrese. “2038 is much scarier and is a lot more difficult to fix.”

The best way to fix the problem is likely to switch to a 64-bit representation of time, but “thus far not too many people have made moves in that direction,” jandrese added. “Switching to 64 bits is not as easy as it might sound, either, since lots of programs use timestamps and many of them make assumptions as to the size of their time fields.”

Not everyone, however, is sure that the situation is quite that dire.

‘A Non-Issue’

“The Y2K38 thing is really interesting, I think. I don’t know how much of an impact it will have, but a lot of Unix code is built on those old timestamps,” Slashdot founder Rob Malda told LinuxInsider. “I guess it’s better we find out now than wait.”

Even more so: “I think it’s a non-issue in most cases,” blogger Kevin Dean asserted. “*nix is built around free software, and the one variant that isn’t, Unix ‘proper,’ is essentially irrelevant. The 32-bit addressing should also be addressed by the move now to 64-bit systems.”

Some legacy applications might be “minimally affected by this,” Dean told LinuxInsider, “but I think the fact that those people have uneditable, unsupported legacy applications that are critical to their operating is MUCH more of an issue than the date being off. This is nothing more than a low-severity bug and will be fixed without much effort.”

Much Ado About Little

Indeed, one of the big lessons learned from the original Y2K was that “it was too much ado about too little,” Slashdot blogger yagu told LinuxInsider. “We feared the worst and got the best, all things considered — no major meltdowns, no critical systems failures, and civilization kept on marching.

“Even taking into consideration embedded systems, it just doesn’t seem plausible we’re up against any horrible scenario,” yagu concluded. “There may be glitches here and there, and we will fix them as we discover them, but we’re not up against anything frightening.”

Perhaps the most profound comment on the topic, however, came from Slashdot blogger Malevolent Tester: “Is this going to affect the Duke Nukem Forever release?”

Sun Buys MySQL

Moving right along, the other biggest topic on the blogs recently appeared to be Sun’s purchase of MySQL, announced formally in Jonathan Schwartz’s blog on Wednesday. That was followed by more than 50 comments and then picked up for discussion on the Linux Today blog and All About Linux.

“If Sun’s track record with OpenOffice is an indicator, MySQL under Sun is a good thing,” yagu said. “Sun is one of a few large corporations that seem to ‘get’ Open Source more than the rest.”

Companies will be more likely to try an Open Source database like MySQL when they know it has the backing of a major expert in the industry like Sun, yagu added.

A Question of Trust

An opposing view: “Sun has really been screwing around with open source for way too long to really figure how much to trust them still,” wrote Barney on the Linux Today blog. “I’m still pissed they bought and killed off those cool box-appliance guys. Cobalt IIRC. They’d be rocking the industry if they were allowed to continue as they were.”

In the middle ground: “Sun could do right by them, or they could screw it up,” Malda said. “They’ve always struggled with Open Source stuff, but if the right MySQL people stay in control it won’t matter. No doubt the code will benefit from their involvement.”

The acquisition of MySQL by Sun is a promising thing, Dean said. “I think Sun will continue to ensure that MySQL is freely available to the community and businesses that use it daily,” he explained.

Schwartz has said that Sun’s first goals are to tightly integrate and optimize MySQL with its own Solaris stack, Dean added. “While some people fear that Sun will ruin MySQL, I think people need to watch Sun a bit more closely – they’re very clearly ramping up to make the SAMP (Solaris, Apache, MySQL, PHP/Perl/Python) stack a LAMP killer in the data center, and because they have a clearly defined focus (unlike GNU/Linux’s a-bit-of-everything approach), they may just do it.”

Sun in the Cloud?

Speculating as to Sun’s motivations, “you have to ask yourself the question, why?” Slashdot blogger gasmonso told LinuxInsider.

“While I’m not psychic, I have seen a lot of interest in cloud computing,” he noted. “Maybe Sun envisions running their newly acquired database on a Sun cloud. This would allow them to compete with various other giants like IBM and Dell.”

Of course, at this particular time of year, everything inevitably comes around to Apple again. “I know a few folks at MySQL, and good for them I guess,” Malda concluded. “If I had their stock options I could buy me a MacBook Air.”

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